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Wait Tugboats Do What? On The Chairlift at Killington
We are three of us crunched onto a triple chair that crawls up the 500-vertical-foot rise. I do not know the other two passengers and deeper into the season we may have spaced this out so as to have our own chairs but it’s Killington and it’s October and the hill and the liftline are still swarming early in the day and we are all just so jacked to be here on snow when snow can’t possibly be that we all scrunch together and up we go.
One of the other riders is a skier and one is a snowboarder and they are probably in their mid twenties and they seem like the kind of guys who are probably into recreational drug use but the kind of drugs that make you mellow and talk about how the moon landing or 9/11 or dinosaurs never happened man and not the kind of drugs that make you lose control of your life and live amidst piles of pizza boxes and forget to brush your teeth for a month and sell your dad’s toolshed for $25 on Craig’s List. They live in Rhode Island and both have the Ikon pass and last year they’d had the Max Pass and they are ready. To. Go. Yeah Yawgoo’s close but by whatever lucky confluence of circumstance they can ride midweek and from their perch in southern New England they sit within striking distance of all those mountains cut rising along the northern ranges all the way up to Canada. It is obvious they are best buds and both have the same ski-the-shit-out-of-winter attitude and they are not the kind of dudes who will look back on their twenties and say man I fucked that up. I am a little jealous of their comradeship as I generally cannot find anyone to daytrip to Vermont with me from NYC especially midweek but I am glad they have this and that there are people doing things with days off other than binge-watching Game Throners or whatever it’s called and we all ski off and away.
This happens a lot at Killington. Where conversation ignites like a lit cigarette and burns slow and certain all the way up. It doesn’t not happen at other places necessarily but there are places like Hunter where it never happens and places like Stratton where it rarely does. But even in the places where chairlift banter is more common it is not like it is at Killington. There is something about the mountain with its long season and western-feeling labyrinthine sprawl and burly face-punching terrain and middle-of-Vermont location that draws like baited animals everyone who thinks of themselves even if it’s with mild embarrassment as hardcore. And this happens over and over and you talk to enough people and you begin to understand.
There was the guy who kept his skis stashed in his car and skis for an hour between jobs whenever he can and skis 100 days a year doing that and the guy who’d skied for years and wasn’t that good at it by his own admission because he doesn’t care about it that much but his wife does and she needs 70 or 80 days a year and so they have a place up here and he skis until noon and then starts drinking and the guy who owned a garden supply store in Connecticut and spent his whole winter skiing because what else are you going to do but sit around and watch Throne Gamers and what a job to have if you want to ski bum your way through middle age.
There was the guy who spent the whole lift ride up detailing for me his forthcoming winter itinerary and his week at Squaw Valley and week at Jackson Hole and week at Taos and a week somewhere in Colorado I think Steamboat and he had an Ikon Pass and a Killington midweek season pass and he was here as much as he could be but to be honest he said with no irony or obvious self-awareness I don’t feel like I use my passes enough. This was the same guy who asked me what kind of core my skis had and I said uh wood? and so he told me all about all the different skis he had and the technical capability and composition of each one and where he got them on Ebay or at a shop and he must have had a dozen pairs and I nodded along because I really know almost nothing about skis except that they’re fun and I like them and they’re better now than they were in the 90s because of sidecut or something.
There was the kid in the K1 gondola with his grandpa who raced on weekends at Pico and he was at Killington all the time too and he knew every trail on the mountain and said he could ski double blacks and even though he was maybe 10 I had no reason not to believe him because Killington is always blitzed with outrageous skiers especially during the week and even on the weekend though then they’re mixed in with the windshield-wipering hoards which just makes it more obvious how good they are. But still he was a kid and like all kids his world is whatever his family tells him it is and he looked at the lift tickets plastered like some modern artwork of consumerist excess on my Spyder jacket and he asked me where they were all from and he wanted to know what Burke was like and what Mad River Glen was like and I told him they were fantastic which they are.
There was the tugboat captain who lived somewhere in these northern hinterlands and worked two weeks on and two weeks off and on those off weeks he skied all over New England. And here I thought tugboat captains would have spent their free time crushing whisky straight from the bottle and getting in barfights but here was one riding the Snowdon Triple. He ranged all up and down the Hudson and I asked him what kind of cargo he pulled and he said he pushed and who the hell knew but pushed some kind of giant garbage or supply barge and I imagined I could probably see him from my office window which is on the 50th floor of a Midtown Manhattan skyscraper and faces the river and all day I watch boats and planes and helicopters go by, and I imagined him smoking a pipe with his hand on an oversized steering wheel and the wind blowing his rain jacket around but hell he probably just wears his ski coat.
There was the girl who was in college or had just finished and didn’t have all that much cash and so she looked for deals and skied the backcountry a lot which isn’t a thing you see a ton of in the East but she had a whole crew who was into it and I asked if she’d ever skied Tucks which is the only backcountry-ish thing I know about and of course she had.
In April there was a guy on the Snowdon six pack and we kept the bubble up because it was warm out. All of Snowdon skier’s left of the bubble was closed but he tells us he ducked the rope and everything’s more or less still filled in and so we duck it even though I nearly got my ticket clipped for poaching Ovation five years earlier but talked patrol out of it by saying please don’t I’m just a dumb New Yorker. And he was right it was great and we skied glades and went back up and came down a long looping bump run that was empty and at the end we had to jump a water bar but we didn’t mind at all because it was the middle of April and we couldn’t believe how much snow there was still.
And there was the guy who’d moved back from Vail to Boston or the Boston suburbs to take care of his mom and the moment his family came into town to watch her he lit out skiing even though they were like well we’d like to spend time with you too and he was like fuck that it just snowed three feet I’m going skiing. He still had his place in Vail and was counting down the days until he could get back there and we talked about the guy who’d died skiing the East Vail chutes that week and he knew the guy and it was all very sad and unexpected.
And sometimes at Killington of course I ride the lift alone and watch everyone skiing below me and think about my next line and if I want to plan it or just cruise and see where I come out, which is usually what I do at Killington, because it’s too big and I don’t go there enough to make any kind of sense of the mountain, even as the people become a little more visible.
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Check out previous podcasts: Killington GM Mike Solimano | Plattekill owners Danielle and Laszlo Vajtay | New England Lost Ski Areas Project Founder Jeremy Davis | Magic Mountain President Geoff Hatheway | Lift Blog Founder Peter Landsman | Boyne Resorts CEO Stephen Kircher